John Friedmann Celebration of Life November 24


RSVPs for the Celebration of Life are now closed.

To contribute to the John Friedmann scholarship to be established go to:


Former SCARP student, Dr. Aftab Erfan, wrote a memorial piece about John in Planning West. 

Dear Professor Sandercock:

On the behalf of the Planners Network Steering Committee, I wanted to express my sincere condolences on the loss of your husband.  Although I never had the opportunity to meet him in person, I (like so many planning scholars) was greatly influenced and inspired by his work - a legacy that will continue to influence a future generation of scholars.  
One of our PN members, Ann Forsyth, recently wrote an obituary for Professor Friedmann, which was just posted on the site and which I wanted to share:

To quote Ann, "With the passing of John Friedmann planning, and progressive planning, has lost an important and unique voice."

I am sorry again for your loss, and I wish you peace and comfort at this time. 


Norma M. Rantisi, Ph.D., PN Co-Chair
Professor & Graduate Program Director, Ph.D./M.Sc. programs
Department of Geography, Planning & Environment
Concordia University

Dear Prof. Boothroyd,

Hope this email finds you and your family in good health and spirit.

My condolences for the loss of Prof. Friedmann, albeit belated.

I thought it is interesting for you to know that we (NGO of Iranian consultant firms & union of planning students at my university) have organized a large memorial meeting in Tehran to honor his contribution to the theory of planning on July 10th. The attached poster is for this event which is in Farsi and I am one of the 3 speakers as well.

In my speech, I would try to weave his key ideas about: transactive planning, civil society, social learning, and community empowerment for a just and humane development. As you know, in this part of the world, preoccupation with technical skills and positivism to “guide the people” by planners' rational decisions is rampant. Though for the new generation of planners the works of John Friedmann is illuminating and inspiring. This event is for this burgeoning interests in the profession. Anyway, I myself feel indebted to Prof. Friedmann’s theories and instructions; RIP.

Wish you the best,

Mozaffar (Sarrafi)

. . . more on the Tehran Memorial 

John: after you and Leonie left for Vancouver I often cursed myself for not making more of having offices in the same building.   Your 1973 Retracking America became an intellectual and methodical keystone to my  strategic service and accommodation planning practice out of Vancouver and Edmonton and then to my teaching , research and practice here out of Melbourne.  The three copies still have a central location in my workplace. I was only recently looking again at Chapter 5: The Uses of the Future related to some aspects of a strategic plan  commission a team I am part  of  hope to get for a major civic building here in Melbourne.   I have been for ever grateful for the advice you passed on through Leonie re an awkward matter with a difficult shared colleague,  it has guided me often at similar times. 

Vale and thanks for being you.

You might not realise it, but when John’s book arrived it was catalytic  to me and my staff. There we were, a bunch of young architects, geographers, urban sociologists, anthropologists, a humanities drop out, an under-used actress, and even an excommunicated priest that I had gathered around me, struggling to organise and routinize what we were doing by instinct in our social, community and accommodation planning projects.   So much of it fell into place and made profound sense after we immersed ourselves into what John was saying and sharing.

These last  couple of days  I have been rereading one of the three copies I still have and looking at what various people had underlined.   I still see students who could do well to read it, especially sections such as Bridging the Communications Gap, and the chapter on Uses of the Future.    

Graham Brawn BArch (UNSW), MArch (Illinois) LFRAIA
Professor Emeritus
Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning
The University of Melbourne,

John was truly a giant, one of a handful of intellectuals and practitioners who linked together planning theory and practice in a very compelling way. And like just a few, Peter Hall and Jean Gottmann come to mind, John deftly connected planning to a very robust social science tradition, discourse and literature: greatly enriching both.  Never content with his seminal contributions on global cities and to planning innovation, John was constantly reinventing himself, recently as an important thinker on the complex ramifications of China’s mega-urban region development

John made extraordinary contributions to the School and to UBC. In addition to the PhD colloquium and program, he was unfailingly generous in attending myriad presentations, colloquia, and faculty meetings. He ‘made us better’, by insisting on intellectual rigour as well as ‘good intentions’. John honoured us all by his commitment and collegiality.

It was a privilege for me to know John, and I look forward to participating in what I’m sure will be future events to commemorate the life, learning and lessons of our eminent and distinguished colleague.

With kindest wishes to all, and special regards to Leonie,

Tom (Hutton), SCARP Professor

Please accept my deepest condolences. He was a grand man, as so many others will attest, in many ways the leading voice in our field. Your loss I can only imagine roughly. I am sorry.

John’s catholic interests and generosity were legendary. He touched me very directly many, many years ago, as he thrice invited me to UCLA, twice to review funded programs and once to a small conference. Each time I felt as though John was boosting me, interested in my ideas, pushing me to publish more. He also willingly served, with Bill Alonso, to be the external committee to protect my nascent Cornell program in International Studies in Planning. As you know better than I ever will, at UCLA he built what for long was the most powerful planning faculty anywhere.

I send you as much sympathy as one can manage with an email, and I wish you strength.  I hope you will one day return to much happier times.

Bill (Goldsmith)
City and Regional Planning
Cornell University

John was a central part of both of my PhD journey and the SCARP PhD programme. He was extremely supportive of my ideas and helped me to develop them in new and divergent ways. John taught me to think differently  - and more critically - both about design, and about planning. Every time I sit down to write, I think of the advice he gave me about how to craft an argument and tell a story. John’s style of mentorship, which was always so personal, critical and supportive, is the benchmark against which I assess and reflect upon my own role as an educator and research supervisor at Glasgow.  

I was so glad to see John for the last time, albeit briefly, at the Portland ACSP - smiling as always and surrounded by those he mentored throughout his long and inspiring life.

I know that no words can fill the loss you must feel, but please know that Tania and I send our love and thoughts from Glasgow.

Dr James T. White FHEA MRTPI
Lecturer in Urban Design
Acting Director, REPR Planning Programmes
Urban Studies 
School of Social and Political Sciences
University of Glasgow



It was with great sadness that I learnt yesterday of John's passing. Please accept my sincere condolences and hopefully the wonderful tributes and obituaries I have already seen (and to which I shall add one) are of comfort as you come to terms with his loss.

John lived a long and full life and I have always found his work inspiring and challenging. Indeed, my first meeting with him in the Dept at UCLA in 1981, when I passed through while still a doctoral student at Oxford, was stimulated by having read and been inspired by his Latin American work and conceptualisations of changing planning approaches. We met rarely but our discussions were always memorable, none more so than my interview with him just over a decade ago as I started the research for my project on Holocaust survivors and escapees who later became leading figures in the postwar evolution and maturation of development theory, policy and practice. We remained in periodic contact as I checked facts or needed to fill gaps as I gradually progressed writing of the monograph arising out of the project and which I hope to finish off this summer. Indeed, I had intended asking him to read the full draft. I shall certainly send you a copy when it is published.

In sadness, but also gratitude for the inspiration that John and his writings provided.


Prof David Simon FAcSS
Director, Mistra Urban Futures
Chalmers University of Technology

Professor of Development Geography
Dept. of Geography
Royal Holloway

University of London

I was so saddened to hear (from Chinese media circles) that John passed away a few day ago. I hope and pray that you will have strength during this time of loss.

John was very kind and generous, and so very open-minded on many different topics and interests, from poems to philosophy, from Singapore’s development to China’s history, and many more. He was very bright, and always enlightened people around him, with positive spirit and a great joy.

He will be greatly missed!

With my deepest condolences.

Yours sincerely,

Associate Professor Jianfei Zhu
Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning
The University of Melbourne 

I was very fortunate to have John on my Master's thesis committee when John and Leonie first joined SCARP. The intellectual and practical guidance that he gave in the master's thesis seminar he conducted for those of us about to embark on fieldwork all over the world has and will have lifelong impacts. I think of John often and cherish his memory, as I inevitably encounter another person in the international development field who has been influenced by John and his work. My condolences to Leonie and the rest of John's family and friends.

Samantha Anderson SCARP MA Graduate (2003)
Senior Policy Adviser, Climate Change and Sustainable Cities 
United Nations Development Programme China Office

I have admired John’s passion for pushing the bounds of planning and his intellectual acumen since meeting him in my first year at SCARP.  I will long remember how he supported and backed me up at a national planning students conference when I was encouraging a presenter to include a more social justice oriented and social inclusion analysis of planning practice.  I will also long remember dinners at Leonie and John’s home for both the quality of the conversations and the amazing food.  My thoughts are with Leonie, the rest of John’s family, and the SCARP community impacted by the loss of John.

Michael Anhorn, SCARP MA Graduate 2006
Executive Director, Canadian Mental Health Association, Vancouver-Fraser Branch

As one of John's former students, I have been shocked and saddened to hear about his sudden passing. He advised my doctoral studies from 2006 to 2012, which has been a painful and yet rewarding journey. It was painful because John would hardly miss any opportunity to push his students for excellence. His excruciating comments would force you to keep questioning your arguments, sometimes even depriving you of the energy to carry on. On the other hand, he would not leave you alone to struggle. His generosity and willingness to read students' writing drafts helped to lift up your spirit. His scholarship and mentorship would eventually help you to bounce back, only to become stronger, more resilient scholars.

I still remember when I was stuck in my doctoral exam, he offered to meet and guide me through the vast literature on civil society and active citizenship, critical thoughts that had shaped his writings. He urged me to confront the complexities of our social reality. He would gladly lend me books that were relevant to my research. One of the books was the 800-page classic, Civil Society and Political Theory by Jean L. Cohen and Andrew Arato. I was amazed and awed by his thoughtful annotations on almost every page of the book. I draw inspiration not only from his works but others that he introduced to me. He once gave me the book, The Eighth Promise: An American Son's Tribute to His Toisanese Mother, as a gift. The moving story taught me to see immigrant communities from a humanistic perspective.

I feel blessed to have learned from John, whose profound concern for human flourishing, social justice, and democracy has touched every one of us. While he is no longer with us, his vision and wisdom would continue to guide us in the field of urban planning. Rest in peace, John! You are dearly missed and remembered. My sincerest condolence goes to Leonie and the rest of the family.

Lisi Feng, SCARP PhD Alumna (2015)

I feel truly blessed to have John as my teacher. During my PhD studies between 2009 and 2013, John guided me throughout the research process. His directed reading course on urban development was an inspiration for me to adopt a micro-historical approach to investigating China’s urban transformation. I have felt fortunate enough to have his continual intellectual support since my graduation in 2014.

Dear John, my beloved teacher, our last meeting in the Urban Super-organism in Asia Workshop 2016 is till vivid in my mind.  Leaving with two questions raised by you about the institutional complexities of regional governcne in Yangtze River Delta, I have been preparing my answers and hoping to visit you again in Vancouver this July. Sadly you left us but you will always remain in my heart. Your scholarship and mentorship will continue to inspire my lifelong pursuit of quality research on planning.

My warmest wishes to Leonie and the rest of John’s

Ivy, Siu Wai Wong (SCARP PhD Graduate 2014)

Assistant Professor, Department of Building and Real Estate
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Dear Professor Leonie Sandercock

On behalf of the Planning Programme at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, I would like to wish you condolences on the passing of John Friedmannn. He made a huge contribution to our field, and will be sorely missed. We appreciate the engagements and interactions that you both had with our department, and specific people within it over the years. His passing is a great loss.

Best wishes

Alison Todes
Professor of Urban and Regional Planning
School of Architecture and Planning
University of the Witwatersrand
South Africa

For those of us who went through SCARP’s Ph.D. program in the early to late 2000s, John was the lifeblood of our program, challenging us to read well beyond the conventional planning theory canon and forcing us to become passionate defenders of our ideas. As others have noted, our Ph.D. colloquium was often a nerve-wracking three hours. John was, unquestionably, a tough critic. He would often close his eyes during your presentation, seemingly falling asleep. Yet, without fail, his eyes would always open again during the question period and he would ask the most piercing question, something that cut right to the heart of your research and exposed a major blind spot in your thinking. It was hard and many of us would leave the colloquium cursing him under our breath. But, ultimately, he made us better, stronger.

At the same time, John recognized that academia wasn’t all about piercing critique; it is also about building a community of scholars – something he (along with Leonie) actively cultivated through the Ph.D. Jamboree. I will always remember John’s response to one participant’s query about how he came up with the name of this event. “I borrowed it from the Boy Scouts”, he responded, before going on to explain that the whole purpose was to bring planning Ph.D. students from across North America together, with no real agenda and without all the pressure of a traditional academic conference. He wanted people to get to know one another and to build an intellectual community. And it worked! Personally, I am still in touch with many of the participants from my Jamboree cohort; they are my critics, my friends, my confidants, and each year we gather up new people who weren’t at any of the Jamborees but who share his vision of an approach to scholarship that is both intensely critical and beautifully human.

John may no longer be with us, but he will live on in all of us who were touched and challenged by his approach to planning scholarship – and who now have the responsibility to continue to work towards his vision for a strong and vibrant community of planning scholars.

Janice Barry, SCARP Ph.D Graduate (2011)

I am Sheng Zhong, SCARP Ph.D. graduate of 2010. I am deeply saddened by John’s passing away. John and I exchanged email just last month. I met him last summer in Vancouver and we discussed China's new urbanization policies and trajectories. John had some skepticism, so did I. I hoped that this discussion could be continued this summer. I was shocked when the bad news arrived. It took me a day to accept that this had indeed happened and we would not be able to continue the conversation any more...

Having benefited so much from John’s scholarships and wisdom, I feel truly grateful for having John as a teacher and mentor in the past twelve years. I feel fortunate enough to have contributed a chapter to the edited book Insurgencies and Revolutions in celebration of John’s lifetime dedication to planning theory and practice. Definitely, John’s influence goes far beyond the personal level. Just a few days ago, a translated version of John’s paper on system complexity and the implications on planning Asian (including China’s) mega-conurbations was published in Urban Planning Forum (2017/3), one of the most reputable planning journals published in China. Shocked by John’s passing, the journal Editorial Board re-published this paper through its official social media platform (WeChat) as a tribute to John for his immense contribution to China planning studies. Sadly John had left us but I believe that his spirit and scholarships will continue to inspire generations of planners worldwide.

My deepest condolence to Leonie and John’s family.

Rest in peace, John, my beloved teacher. And you will be remembered and missed.



Sheng Zhong (PhD)
Lecturer, Department of Urban Planning and Design
Program Director, MSc. (Urban Planning)
Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University

Jiangsu Province, China

My heart goes out to Leonie...this is what I posted on my facebook page as a tribute to John and it was heartfelt:

"John Friedmann passed away this week...he was a wonderful teacher, writer and a Professor in Planning Schools for many years...he wrote the planning theory article that I found most memorable about half a century ago..."Planning as a Calling" and it spoke to my, our motivations to be community planners, to serve the community and make the future a better place for everyone...every morning I still get up and go to work because that is 'my calling' regrets to Leonie and those who were blessed to have him as a friend and also a teacher"

my regards to all
Michael Gordon, SCARP Adjunct Professor

It is said that no one is irreplaceable, but that is much less true of some than others. John Friedmann was one of those close to the unique end of the scale.

Sad day--condolences to all who knew and loved him. 

Bill Rees, SCARP Professor Emeritus


As a Master's student, I only had the opportunity to engage with John relatively briefly, but what moments they were! A towering intellect and a profound credit to the profession. I will never forget our interactions in management and project meetings, where he was unflinching in his pursuit of excellence. That is something we must all continue to aspire to.

My deepest condolences to Leonie and their family.

George Benson, SCARP Graduate 2017

This is the worst news for Leonie and the family and I send my most profound condolences.  But it is also very sad news for our profession - an intellectual force for reason and progress is gone and will be constantly missed.

Larry Beasley, SCARP Distinguished Practice Professor

It's a sad day, indeed. I'm very sorry to hear the news. My sincerest condolences to his friends and family.

Erick Villagomez, SCARP Adjunct Professor

"Generations of students struggled with me through introductory courses in planning theory, and surely, without their probing and frequently contentious questions, this book would never have been written" - wrote John in the Acknowledgements of his 1987 "Planning in the public domain".

How many planning PhD dissertations and journal articles grew out of this book and these struggles? I feel it was such a privilege for us SCARP PhDs to have the opportunity argue with John during our difficult PhD Colloquium series.

Condolences to Leonie, Manuela and John's family. And to the planning field as we lost one of the most prominent intellectual giants. 

Lily Yumagulova, SCARP PhD Student

Leonie my heartfelt condolences for your personal loss.  To Penny thank you for letting us know about the loss of SCARP’s most esteemed colleague.

Many of us first met John through his writing.  I have before me Retracking America written in 1973.  John’s work was one of our must reads in the PhD program of that date.  Reading my underlining and margin notes I am reminded how John linked knowledge to action. “The requirements of learning bind the expert to constant examination and re-examination of his data at the level of theory and experiment”. (I excuse John the use of ‘his’ --the usual pronoun of the day – no doubt he meant his or her.)

The inside cover of Retracting America says “Describing the crisis affecting planning in the United States today – a crisis of values and knowing – the author proceeds to outline a new style of planning appropriate to the conditions of post-industrial America.” John’s passing has left a void.  One wonders who will respond to today’s crisis of values and knowing?

Book learning is one thing.  Personal dialogue is another. How lucky we have been that John came to UBC and so frequently shared his wisdom with us.  


Ann (McAfee) SCARP Adjunct Professor

Yes.  Retracking America was indeed a landmark work for many planners, and would-be planners such as myself.  I started the book thinking it would deal with one of my abiding interests:  railway patterns.  Instead, I found accessible insights into the complexity of ends-means relationships and the implications of that complexity for participatory planning and the spiritual life of professionals. 

When, to our good fortune, John joined SCARP, I mentioned to him how important the book had been to me.  He seemed surprised, perhaps a little indignant-- noting with understatement that he had written a bit since then.  For many of us, these recent "bits" continue to shape our understanding of what planning is all about.  For some of us, his lucidly presented insights of the early 1970s were (and I use this word with care) transformative.

I am saddened-- still shocked, actually-- to get the news of John's passing.  Like others, I feel heartfelt solidarity with Leonie whose own work profoundly influences planning culture.

Peter Boothroyd, SCARP Professor Emeritus

I was reminded of John’s vast influence when I was working in Romania and a one of the Romanian planners came up to me and pulled Planning in the Public Domain out of his briefcase saying he carried with him always and referred to it often -- concluding that it was the greatest planning book ever written. I agreed. What a gift, what a loss.

Thoughts and prayers are with you Leonie and the rest of the family.

William Trousdale, SCARP Adjunct Professor

Dear Friends, we have received your mail with big surprise and in a few moments a feeling of gratitude invaded my soul. For me and for my team John suppose the top in Planning and the opportunities to work with him in Madrid, in LA or more recently in Berkeley keep always. But first of all we found an unbelieve person, strong personality and he was always available to help others. Rest in peace!

Adolfo Cazorla, Director
Grupo de investigación Gesplan
Universidad Politécnica de Madrid

Dr. Ren Thomas, former Masters and PhD student at SCARP, has written her reflections on John's life.

In memoriam, a tribute from UBC's Faculty of Applied Science can be found at: